We live in a difficult time for the United States. Not only is the country divided, but the political leaders on all sides embrace moral decisions that fly in the face of how Christ taught us to live. We are concerned about issues regarding Christians and politics.
It is not a new thing for political leaders to clash with good morals. In Luke 3:18-20, we read that Herod the tetrarch imprisoned John the Baptist when he spoke out about Herod’s evil actions with his brother’s wife. (See Luke 3:18-20.) The enemies of Christ tried to get him in trouble by saying the He was opposed to Caesar and the Roman authorities. Today it is likely that someone speaking against the immoral practices of politicians may suffer consequences. Our courts now endorse immoral practices.
In spite of John’s imprisonment and execution by a Roman leader, Jesus told his followers to pay taxes. He said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Today, some religious leaders have gotten involved in politics to the extent of telling their followers how to vote. What is the proper relationship between Christians and politics?
Paul addresses that question in Romans 13. In verses 1 and 2 he tells us that God has instituted governing authorities and that Christians should be subject to them. In verses 3-5, he wrote that rulers are servants of God. The next two verses tell Christians to pay taxes and give respect and give honor to authorities. Paul wrote this to people living in a pagan, violent, immoral political system. Starting with verse 8, Paul talks about what Christians should be doing that was in contrast to the political system of his day.
God instituted civil law to provide order in the human community. Even the most corrupt politician does not want the culture he rules to be dominated by murder, violence, and anarchy. The Ten Commandments provide the structure we need for order in society. As humans have strayed from God, they still need order and structure. Even when the agents of this order and structure are corrupt, they still provide a framework in which people can live. As far as Christians and politics, we are not called to make a political agenda our number-one priority. Romans 13 ends with Paul saying, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Whatever you do politically, let your Christian values guide it. The wall of separation we need to be concerned about is the wall between walking in the light and walking in darkness. (See 1 John 1.)
I went with my grandson to a musical instrument mega-store, where he was looking for an amplifier for his bass guitar. In addition to being a guitarist, he is also a drummer. While there, my ears were accosted as he tested a drum set and then tried out several bass guitar amps. The bass was so loud it rattled objects in the vicinity, and I could feel it pounding on my body. The experience reminded me of the connections between humans and music of all kinds.
My grandson purchased nothing because he didn’t find anything he liked in his price range. As we left the store, I was a bit relieved since my ears were still ringing. Stepping out into the parking lot, the sound of heavy traffic on the busy New Jersey street was relatively quiet.
Humans and music have been connected from the beginning. The artifacts left behind by the earliest humans include primitive musical instruments. Music styles change, and tastes in music vary from person to person. Just think of all the different musical genres and styles that people create and enjoy from country to classical, from jazz to gospel.
Music can stir our emotions. It can transport us to new places in our minds or stimulate us to action. Music can soothe our troubled souls, or a sad song can make us cry. The words of Christian songs can inspire us, and music can also tempt us into sin. Music goes beyond our minds and reaches into our emotions. What is it about music that so moves us? Perhaps it’s a desire for heaven.
Read the book of Revelation, and you will get an idea of the role of music in heaven. Music and worship go together, both in this life and in the life ahead. One of the things that distinguishes humans is our ability to create, perform, and appreciate music. Since we are created in the image of God, that must mean that God appreciates music also. Revelation indicates that singing for God before His throne will be a joyful experience. Until then, humans and music will go together as we long for the time when we are at home with God. For now, singing as we worship Him in our assemblies brings us joy as we honor our Creator.
Our visitor had just arrived in the United States from South America. He had never seen snow before arriving on a day in January. As he looked out into our back yard, he laughed heartily and said, “How happy is your hard water.” I had no idea what he was talking about because I think of hard water as something that leaves mineral deposits that are difficult to remove. I had not connected joy and hard water.
I joined him at the door and saw what he was looking at. The visitor was talking about the solid state of water in the form of snow. Our “hard water” made a snowman, something our visitor could not visualize from his personal experience. Nothing could stop him from joining my daughters to make his own snowman.
Water is, indeed, a remarkable material. The design of its molecular structure allows it to dissolve other substances. This same structure allows water to hold vast amounts of heat. It also allows water to exist as a solid. Liquids like alcohol have a molecular design that does not make them nearly as good as water in these critical ways.
The abortion issue is not only a political football, but now it has become a threat to population stability. That is because of sex selective abortions.
In India, 50,000 babies are aborted each month because they are girls, and females are considered to be a burden on the family. One long-term effect of the 17.3 million baby girls killed in India during the past 30 years is a huge gender imbalance in the population. In any human society, there is roughly a 50/50 balance between males and females. That means that if baby girls are aborted, there will be many males without wives, and that disrupts marriage, families, and children.
You don’t have to go to India to see cases of sex selective abortion. In 2016 the state of Indiana passed a law protecting the unborn from abortions based on race, sex, or disability. Planned Parenthood went to court to have the law overturned, and the court ruled that the law is unconstitutional. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to address the case. We have been told that there are counselors who are advising expectant mothers to have an abortion because their baby is a girl.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made this comment about the case: “Enshrining the constitutional right to an abortion based solely on the race, sex, or disability of an unborn child, as Planned Parenthood advocates, would constitutionalize the views of the 20th Century eugenics movement.”
We would add to that comment that sex selective abortion shows even more clearly that abortion is infanticide. If you wait until you can determine the sex of the pre-born child, you are simply murdering an infant. We consider Herod’s killing of the innocents described in Matthew 2:16 as barbaric. In our world today, the slaughter far exceeds what Herod did.
We have mentioned before that many human inventions are actually adaptations of things we see in nature. That applies to products from Velcro to high-strength materials to airplanes. However, there are times when we can’t improve on the natural product, so we use it as God created it. An example of that is wood. It’s a natural multipurpose building material. Wood is strong, durable, flexible, weather-resistant, lightweight, and non-toxic. Lumber from trees is the most common building material for homes and other housing structures.
How could there be such a well-designed and valuable natural multipurpose building material? Wood is produced in a living plant. Under the protective bark of a tree lies the cambium layer. It is the innermost layer of the bark where growth takes place. Each year, during the warm months, the cambium produces living cells, which become the new sheath expanding the trunk of the tree. The layers from previous years remain as the wooden skeleton giving strength to the tree. If you cut it down, you can count those layers as visible rings revealing the age of the tree.
The tree’s roots take in water with vital nutrients from the ground. Within the woody trunk, there are microscopic conduits called xylem carrying that water up to the leaves. Just outside of the cambium, another layer of micro-ducts called phloem moves sugar-water that the leaves produce using the amazingly complex system of photosynthesis. The phloem supplies nourishment that the cambium requires to build the new sheath of wood. When the growing season ends, the phloem carries the remaining nourishment to the roots for winter storage until next spring.
Trees often lose branches from wind, ice storms, other natural means, or by human intervention. When that happens, it can throw the tree off balance. The cambium steps in to build a thicker sheath on the side where the limb was lost, reinforcing the tree to bear the uneven load. When examining the rings of a felled tree, a ring that is thicker on one side indicates a fallen branch. The tree automatically takes care of the area of the lost limb by covering it with new annual sheaths.
Take a moment to look at the wood in your house. That natural multipurpose building material in the window and door trim, the floor, and your furniture was once alive. It was growing and transporting sap while the leaves converted sunlight and water into sugar-water to nourish the tree, and the cambium created new growth. The lines in that wood tell the story of days and years of rainfall, sunshine, wind, and changing temperatures in a forest somewhere in the world. The wood in your house is not there by accident, and we don’t believe the tree was a natural accident, but the work of a creative Engineer.
Some people are confused by the fact that the Bible uses different names for God. We often use different terms to speak of the same individual. I might refer to my biological father as Dr. Clayton (he held a Ph.D. in philosophy), Mr. Clayton, Alfred Stafford Clayton, Staff, father, or daddy, depending on whom I was talking to or addressing. Those different names emphasize different aspects of the person. Likewise, the different names for God emphasize various aspects of His nature.
“Elohim” in Hebrew refers to God’s power and might. It involves the fact that God is the only true and supreme God. That word was used in Genesis 1:1 because the creation process was a radical display of power and might. The Hebrew word “Adonai” was used in reference to God’s authority in human affairs. In Deuteronomy 6, we see the conclusion of the giving of the Ten Commandments. In talking about the value of the commandments, God tells His people that the purpose of those rules was “that it may go well with you” (Verse 3). Verse 6 indicates God’s authority: “And these words ‘Adonai’ commands you today shall be on your heart.” This isn’t about power and might, but about structure and order given by one in authority.
Perhaps the most quoted name for God is “Yahweh.” Since “Yahweh” is the proper name of the divine Person, the Jews would not even speak it for fear of violating the commandment against using God’s name in vain. You will find “Yahweh” in passages that involve the promises of God. We see an example of the use of different names for God by a careful study of Genesis 1 and 2. In Genesis 1, the word used for God is “Elohim.” In Genesis 2, the word used is “Yahweh.” Some skeptics have maintained that Genesis 1 and 2 had two different authors, but looking at the names used for God dispels that idea.
The first chapter of Genesis deals with the creation. The power of God is the theme throughout the entire chapter. In Genesis 2, the theme is not creation, but the relationship between man and woman. Verse 24 of chapter 2 spells that out: “Therefore (the stated purpose of the chapter) shall a man leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one.” God’s plan for man and woman was for the support man needed (verse 20). Many of us who have lost our wives can testify to the truth of Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Being one is not just sexual; it is emotional, psychological, and spiritual.
The two names for God used in Genesis 1 and 2 do not indicate different authors. They express different themes, and both are important and correct. The Bible uses other different names for God, and that is not a weakness because each name carries a different emphasis. Understanding that is a key to understanding the Bible.
We recently received questions and accusations surrounding the issue of whether Christianity is a cult? This is not a new issue because, in the first century, many claimed that the apostles were promoting a cult. So, is Christianity a cult?
How do we identify a cult? Most definitions revolve around one figurehead who dictates the actions which the cult members must follow. The cult leader gains something by the actions of those who are members of the cult. Those gains can be monetary, sexual, physical, mental, or emotional, but there are always gains for the cult leader. The methods of control in a cult can be physical or sexual rewards for joining, physical punishment for not following the rules, or psychological control by intimidation or withholding of acceptance by the group.
History is full of religious cults. So is Christianity a cult with Jesus Christ as the cult leader? We are talking about Christianity as presented in the Bible. We do not mean organizations established by humans that call themselves Christian but have practices and teachings which contradict the Bible. There are denominations and sects that we would agree are cults. They have their own book of rules apart from the Bible. They have their own leader who dictates what members do, and they maintain control of their members by techniques that contradict biblical teaching. That is not biblical Christianity. Here are some reasons why biblical Christianity is not a cult:
1) The leader of Christianity died for the members of the group and refused money, fame, or items of physical comfort.
2) The message of Jesus was to serve others, not to be served. That was what He did.
3) The message of Christianity is, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians. 2:12), not, “Do what I say or else.”
4) Members of Christianity are not removed from the world and isolated from outside influence. “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). That is not a cloistered, isolated existence.
5) One source of information is given to Christians, and that is the Bible. It is a perfect guide for life. It is not a book of rules but a source of information on how to live successfully. (See 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Matthew 5-7.)
6) The message of Christ was and is confirmed by immediate and long-term physical results. “By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16) is the challenge of Christianity. When people follow the teaching of Christ, they find peace, love, compassion, service, and freedom. No cult produces freedom in any sense.
We do not argue for someone to join “our cult.” We encourage all people to choose and live in a way that works and will bless all people. Is Christianity a cult? Absolutely not!
Imagine standing naked outside on a cold winter day. When winter’s chill comes, people take shelter. If we have to be out, we put on more clothing. Most animals have fur or feathers to help keep them warm, and they also seek shelter from the cold. Trees in winter can only stand there and take it for months at a time. So how do trees prepare for winter?
Living cells in plants or animals consist primarily of water inside a membrane. If you leave a bottle of water in your car on a night when the temperature drops below freezing, you know it will freeze and break the bottle. That is because water has the unique property of expanding as it freezes. The same thing can happen in living cells. If the water in the cell freezes, it will expand and rupture the membrane. Animals that are endothermic (warm-blooded) generate heat within their cells by burning sugar to produce energy. Plants make sugar using light energy. With a few exceptions, they don’t produce heat.
How do trees prepare for winter? They use a process botanists refer to as “hardening.” The cell walls become more permeable to allow water to escape. At the same time, sugars, proteins, and acids in the cell are concentrated into a syrupy liquid, which acts as an antifreeze. The spaces between the cell walls become filled with ultra-pure water filtered through the cell walls. Pure water without stray atoms to form a nucleus around which ice crystals can grow, will freeze only at a much lower temperature. With the cells filled with antifreeze and spaces between having only ultra-pure water that can be super-cooled without freezing, the tree is ready for what the winter brings.
How does the tree know that it’s time to harden for winter? Fall weather can fluctuate quickly and dramatically. A tree can’t depend on the fickle weather because it could easily be fooled by warm days that suddenly turn cold, causing it to freeze to death. Trees know when to prepare for winter because of the length of the days – the “photoperiod.” Weather is unpredictable. The Sun is absolutely dependable. When the tree senses a decrease in light in each 24-hour cycle, it knows winter is coming, even if the weather is unusually warm. The pattern of changing daylight and darkness is exactly the same every year, even though the weather is capricious.
God engineered this incredibly well-designed system. “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for seasons and for days and for years’” (Genesis 1:14). Thus God designed the system which says, “Trees prepare for winter.” It’s another engineering marvel from the Creator.
There’s an amazing balance in the design of living things in this world. Many times humans throw the system out of balance. The rhinoceros is endangered not because of natural predators, but because of humans. Rhino horns can sell for thousands of dollars for their collectible value and their use in traditional Asian medicine, so poachers take advantage of that.
People are willing to pay a high price for the rhino horns for decorative or medicinal purposes. Killing these animals to use their horns for decorative trophies is shameful. Killing them for medicine is useless. Their horns consist of only keratin, which is the same as human hair or fingernails. In reality, the rhino horn is one really tough bundle of nose hairs glued together by material extruded from sebaceous glands in the animal’s nose. Superstitious beliefs have caused people to grind the rhino horns into powder and drink the powder in water or inhale it for supposed health benefits.
Wild rhinos numbered over half-a-million at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today there are fewer than 30,000. The International Rhino Foundation reports that three rhinos are killed each day by poachers just to obtain their horns. Trying to catch the poachers and stop them in the act is nearly impossible. Sawing off the rhino’s horn to make it unattractive to poachers is not a good solution. Science is looking for a better way.
Researchers from the University of Oxford have designed fake rhino horns that look and feel like the real thing. More than that, they have similar material properties to the real horns. They used hairs from the tails of horses (close relatives of rhinos) and cemented them together with a silk-protein based organic filler. Molding the structure into the shape of a rhino horn, you get a realistic imitation. Even examining the internal structure on cross-section reveals identical characteristics. It also handles grinding and high temperatures like the real deal.
These fake rhino horns can be manufactured rather economically, so the rhinoceros horn market could be flooded with them to disrupt the black market. Furthermore, when the horns are ground into powder for medicinal purposes, they will be just as effective real horns, meaning not effective at all.
Education doesn’t work as long as people have superstitious religious beliefs about the power of rhino horns. Perhaps the fake horns will help. The best answer to the problem of human abuse of this well-designed world is to realize that the Creator has given us the job of being caretakers of the creation. (Genesis 2:15) If we believe there is a Creator who holds us responsible, we have good reason to handle the Earth and the life on it with care.
As science began to show the harmful effects of smoking, cigarette companies tried to dissuade fears by adding filters to their products. The Phillip Morris Company initially marketed the Marlboro brand as a cigarette for women. In 1954 the Leo Burnett advertising agency set out to reach a broader market by introducing the Marlboro Man.
Originally the ads featured rugged-looking men in various roles, but in the early 1960s, they settled on cowboys in “Marlboro Country.” The idea was to appeal to young men, “post adolescent kids” by using a masculine cowboy in a ranch setting. One of the men who played the role was a real rancher in Colorado by the name of Robert Norris. Executives at the advertising agency saw him in a newspaper picture with his friend, actor John Wayne. Norris had the looks and the ranch, where the agency took hundreds of photos of him for use in the ad campaign.
The Marlboro Man campaign was so successful that by 1972, Marlboro cigarettes were leading the industry. Robert Norris was not the first, or the last, Marlboro Man. But one interesting thing about him is that he didn’t smoke. In fact, according to his son Bobby, he told his children, “I don’t ever want to see you smoking.” Eventually, one of his children asked, “If you don’t want us smoking, why are you doing cigarette commercials?” That day he called Phillip Morris and resigned from the job.
What can we learn from this? For one thing, as we have said before, human greed causes human suffering. Companies often follow the “survival of the fittest” mentality looking to enhance their bottom line at the expense of the public. Also, as every parent should know, our children will follow our example more than our words.
Norris was the Marlboro Man for 12 years, but he was not the only one. The campaign lasted until 1999. A major reason for its ending was the death of the actors who played the role and actually smoked. Five of them died of smoking-related illnesses. The cowboy theme of the campaign earned Marlboros the nickname “cowboy killers.” Robert Norris, who didn’t smoke, died in November of 2019 at age 90.
Norris’ friend, “six-pack-a-day” smoker John Wayne survived lung cancer in 1964 but died of stomach cancer in 1979. According to the “John Wayne Official” Twitter page, Norris and his wife “spent many Thanksgivings” with John Wayne. Perhaps John Wayne should have followed the example of Robert Norris. My father died from the effects of smoking more than 35 years ago, and this week I lost a friend because he was not able to kick the habit. Meanwhile, those who profit from smoking and vaping continue to demonstrate that they care more about money than people. They need to learn something about the concept of repentance.